Europe’s “Right to Be Forgotten” ruling has been gotten much attention since being handled down in May. Not surprisingly, Google has received a significant number of URL removal requests since the law was announced in May – in fact, approximately 70k to date. This number is, of course, expected to jump pretty substantially overtime, with estimates of total requests ranging anywhere from 500k -1 million by this time next year. While this number is still a drop in the ocean in terms of the vast number of sites out there, managing and reviewing all these requests will still require reasonable effort on Google’s part. Enter Forget.me, the service started by Lyon-based startup Reputation VIP, that eases the process of helping users exercise their right to be forgotten.
Streamlining the request process
According to Bertrand Girin, cofounder ReputationVIP, Forget.me is filling an acute need on the part of both users and Google. What should perhaps be an easy process for the user was, unsurprisingly, revealed to be a bit complicated once Google posted the URL removal request form online. Girin explains that there are three principal problems with the current process. First, users are asked to describe the problem that’s leading them to request the URL be removed. The requester needs to demonstrate that the URL is, according to the law, irrelevant, outdated, or otherwise objectionable. As the field to capture this information is currently open-ended, it leaves the potential for the requester to easily make mistakes and doesn’t give much guidance on the type of text they’re looking for. As a result, Forget.me decided to offer users 30 different standard ‘problem’ cases that apply to the vast majority of situations. Of course, users can also add other cases as well should their particular situation not appear in the list.
The next problem, which seems like it would be fairly straightforward is indicating which URL to be removed. It’s extremely important that users provide Google with the exact URL they wish to be removed or they risk having their request denied. To resolve this issue, Forget.me integrated a search function so users can find and integrate the correct URL into their request. Finally, if users submit the current URL removal request form to Google, there’s apparently no ‘paper trail’. This could obviously become a fairly major problem if a user gets a ‘no’ response from Google which they, in turn, plan to contest in court. Submitting the request via Forget.me’s platform resolves this problem. In addition to keeping all requests in one central place, Forget.me will also follow-up on requests on the user’s behalf, notify users once Google has made a decision on the request and, if the request has been approved, verify that the URL has been removed.
It’s important to point out as well that users aren’t the only ones benefiting from a service such as Forget.me. While Google would, undoubtedly, prefer not to have to address these requests at all, they don’t have much of a choice at this point. Better for them to receive clear, properly formulated requests rather than, 10s or 100s of thousands of unintelligible ones.
Why don’t we have that law too?
Since launching in June, Forget.me has enjoyed quite a bit of buzz not just in Europe, but on a global scale. They’ve managed to attract the attention of media outlets around the world, resulting in articles in publications from 37 countries. The US media, in particular, have been closely following the broader debate around the ruling as well as Forget.me, including notable sources such as the Daily Beast, The Verge, TechCrunch, and Wired. Perhaps due to the coverage and the heated debate around the topic, 1/3 of visitors to Forget.me have actually come from the US. I asked Girin if this could, perhaps, be from European citizens living in the States that are unclear that the law was intended to apply to European residents. He said that he does have a clear view on that yet, but that in the US there is a very lively and polarized debate on the subject. From Girin’s perspective, through the ruling, Europe was actually out in-front on an issue that is increasingly being debated and acted on around the world. He noted that Canada and Hong Kong, for example, currently have similar laws under discussion. And, of course, other tech giants are accepting the ‘right to be forgotten’, with Microsoft launching a form this week to begin taking URL removal requests, which should also bump up the number of requests.
A niche, but growing opportunity
While most users will never submit a request to Google, it’s evident that this is a hot topic that will only become more so as other countries and regions put in place similar laws. At the moment Forget.me is a free service, Girin expects at some stage to transition to a freemium model where the current service will, perhaps, remain free and new premium services or features will be offered.
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